Brave New Bodies

Modern medical research is a commercial enterprise. And when it creates a product, it has to create a market for the product. Sometimes by inventing a need that doesn't even exist. A good example is the production of human growth hormone. It's created a whole new category of disease: being short. Genetic engineers began to experiment with human growth hormone because it's easy to work with in the laboratory. But once they had found a way to produce it, they began looking for ways to market it. At first, the hormone was used only to treat dwarfism. But there's not much money in that--the dwarf population just isn't that large. Who else might use the hormone? I know, the researchers said: short people. Kids who aren't growing as fast as their classmates. Who get picked last for basketball team. Who are teased for being the littlest kid on the block. Why don't we help all those poor, persecuted short kids? It was simply a matter of redefinition. Researchers took the bottom 3 percent on the height scale--the low end of normal--and redefined it as abnormal. They declared shortness a disorder. And there it was: an instant market for the hormone. So now we have kids like 11-year-old Marco--who doesn't suffer from any hormone deficiency, who's just short. To combat this "disorder," Marco receives a nightly shot of genetically engineered human growth hormone. Now, in the past, Marco would have simply made the best of his low stature. He might have developed a sense of humor to compensate for his friends' ribbing. But today, making the best of things isn't good enough. People demand the right to fit some idealized image sold them by advertisers. It's reminiscent of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley's story of a controlled society. At one point in the novel, manufacturers came up with exotic sports equipment--things like Centrifugal Bumble-puppy and Electro-magnetic Golf. Trouble is, the equipment wasn't selling. But not to worry. The controllers simply began a new conditioning process. They made tape recordings extolling the joys of their products, and played the tapes for 12-year-old children while they slept. Ten years later, right on schedule, the children began to feel an inexplicable urge to buy things like Centrifugal Bumble-puppies. Sales shot up, the economy boomed. Fortunately, we haven't got to the point of imbedding tape players in children's mattresses. But our economy does manufacture products people don't need. And so the ad men try to create a need. They play on our dissatisfactions and shortcomings. They tempt us with feelings that we deserve better. They shame us into thinking we ought to fit some fantasy ideal--that we ought to be built like Ken and Barbie dolls. Then we turn to medical technology to make us fit the ideal. It all raises a disturbing question: When is genetic engineering a matter of helping the sick and when does it become a matter of tampering with God's creation? God has created a diverse array of human types--tall, short; dark and light--all with their own beauty. As the children's song goes, red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight. And they should be precious in our sight, too.


Chuck Colson



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